What Is Biodefense?

G. Wiesen

Biodefense is an effort to combat the potential effects of an attack that utilizes biological agents, such as bioterrorism or the deployment of biological weaponry. This type of defense is typically utilized in two general ways, either as a defense against an attack on a civilian population or a defense against an attack on a military target. Civilian defense is largely based on early detection and methods by which casualties and loss of food or water can be minimized. Biodefense for military targets is often concerned with ensuring that military personnel are prepared to respond to and treat attacks that use biological weaponry.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Though the term “biodefense” does not implicitly indicate military involvement, it has largely been recognized as a concept within defense and security in many countries. The core principles behind this idea are typically prevention of attacks and methods for minimizing damage based on attacks. Bioattacks are usually considered to be potential threats from organizations willing to utilize bioterrorism or from militaries that might use biological weaponry during a war or other conflict. This type of attack would likely involve a virus or other biological agent that can inflict harm, including death and severe illness, to those exposed to it.

Biodefense is typically considered in two ways, depending on the potential targets that need to be protected. Civilian biodefense is the consideration of how a civilian population can be protected in the event of a biological attack, such as an attack utilizing bioterrorism. This type of defense usually consists of early detection, prevention, and treatment for both human civilians and resources such as food and water supplies. These secondary considerations, for food and water, often separate biodefense considerations for civilian areas from those necessary in the protection of military targets and personnel.

Military biodefense usually considers the use of biological weaponry in a military attack, in which soldiers are likely to be the primary target. This type of defense often consists of methods for early detection of biological weaponry that has been deployed, which may be difficult since such attacks are not easily recognized through an explosion or other visible indicator. Detection methods can include technology used to indicate when pathogens and similar biological agents are found in the air or a food or water sample. Immunization against common agents used in a biological attack for soldiers can also be an important part of biodefense, as well as the development of treatment methods that can be used to reduce mortality rates from such an attack.

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